Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hunger and Priorities

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director, Ministry of Life, Dignity and Justice

I have never experienced real hunger or thirst, not to the point of being in danger, nor do I personally know anyone who has.  So it is a little hard to get in touch with severe hunger and thirst.  Nonetheless, my faith calls me to be in solidarity with those who lack of access to the basic necessities of food and water.

Today 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are in danger of losing their lives due to the worst drought since 1950-51.  Crops have failed and livestock have died from thirst.  The United Nations declared a famine on July 20.  Refugees, most of whom are women with young children, are walking for weeks to reach overcrowded camps in hopes of finding water, food and help. 

In the United States, this news is overshadowed by the discussion of the debt crisis.  From my perspective the arguments between and within the political parties seem to be over how to cut spending.  A budget is a moral document.  Fiscal responsibility is important, but it is more important to decide what kind of a country we want to be and then figure out how to achieve that.  If we look at this question through the lens of our faith, surely we will find goals more compelling than balancing the budget for the sake of balancing the budget.

How is this related to the crisis in Africa?  One of the items being cut is poverty focused international assistance, even though this is less than 1% of our spending.  The Holy Father said "It is inadmissible to be indifferent in the face of the tragedy of the hungry and thirsty,"  Are we being indifferent to the crisis in Africa because we are so immersed in our own political rhetoric?

In last Sunday’s Gospel, the Multiplication of the Loaves as told in Matthew 14, Jesus tells the disciples to “give them some food yourselves.”  We can take this reading on the level or being a story about a miracle, which it surely was, or we can go deeper and look at it as Eucharistic.  How does Jesus call us to care for the poor and vulnerable, the hungry?  “Give them some food yourselves.” 

As the Holy Father said:  "The love of God is present in the bread of Christ; encountering him, we feed on the living God, so to speak, and we truly eat the bread come down from heaven….In the Eucharist, Jesus makes us witnesses to God's compassion for every brother and sister,"  (Please see the article from Catholic News Service)

Now, what can we do?  We can take action as individuals, as parish faith communities and as a nation.

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